Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”
The sixth in the series of novels I am reading on Dystopian futures.
This book envisions a future where all books, except comics and instructional manuals, are banned. Found books are burned, and if they are discovered in a home, that home is burned with the books. What is most interesting, is that the banning of books in Bradbury’s universe is not the result of an evil government out to control the thoughts of people, but the result of people turning from the written word to the poor substitute of mass media. It was a gradual thing, so gradual that the scholars of the world didn’t speak out until it was too late. Then came the “Firemen” who burned instead of extinguishing. The remaining books were hidden away by a few people who still remembered why books are valuable. These people, when the war came and destroyed the cities, had memorized the words of Shakespeare, Milton, Locke, Lincoln, Ghandi, and Christ, to name a few–and became these books.
The confused and terrified antihero of the book is a Fireman named Guy Montag. He is changed over several days by a teenaged neighbor girl who loves flowers and pretty words, and makes him realize in a moment that he has no love in his life and he is miserably unhappy. When he steals a book from a house he burns, his change becomes permanent, and he can’t go back to burning. He actually reads the book, and Bradbury captures Montag’s inability to actually think critically. He can’t keep his mind still. He doesn’t know how to concentrate on what he is reading. He’s all over the place. And this is something that I considered as Montag read–with all his stunted thoughts, dropped ideas, and lost direction. Of course. Because we learn to learn. Learning to read is one thing. Comprehension, reason, digesting a book, pulling meaning from it and knowing how it applies to the world, that is something else entirely. Montag could read certainly. He just couldn’t comprehend what he was reading. But that is how everyone was in his world–Montag wasn’t a moron. He was just intellectually empty.
Bradbury’s world is bizarre. What would the world look like without books? It’s a strange place where all the knowledge that has been passed down through the generations of humanity has been lost, and all that remains of the genius of Man is the art of war and his knowledge of how to build weapons of mass destruction… He has since burned with fire “the better angels of his nature.” So nothing matters any more other than work, sports, and television–namely interactive soap operas. Today, Bradbury would have called it “reality television”. However, so-called Reality TV came after he wrote his book–a book that, when looking out at our culture today, is disturbingly prophetic.
What is most disturbing is that it was no secret that the war was coming. Armies were organized and sent to war. Fighter planes flew over the skies. Everybody saw, but nobody noticed. No one cared past their wall-sized televisions what was going on in the world–their televisions, while keeping them informed, also removed them from the reality of their dire situation. The truth of their imminent destruction could not actualize inside them because they had no intellectual depth, and no connection to the real world–out there. So the bombs came and blew them all to kingdom come and they didn’t even try to save themselves. They didn’t understand the difference between fact and fiction.